As a professional travel blogger who is also a fierce cat mom (we love our kitty Twyla!) one of the biggest questions I get is: how the HECK do I leave my cat at home while traveling?
If you’re like most cat parents, the thought of leaving our kitty behind while we jet off on vacations used to fill us with anxiety. How will she cope without us? Will she be sad? And what if something goes wrong?
There’s no need to worry, though. Robin and I have been leaving cats at home for years now, and we’re about to jet off to Denmark for a month! We’re keeping Twyla at home instead of a boarding professional and I already know that my DMs on Instagram will be flooded with questions about pet care.
I get it – leaving a cat while on vacation to rule the house alone can be daunting. With a little advance planning, you can make sure your cat is safe and happy at home while you’re away. Here are some tips to get you started.
How Long Can You Leave A Cat Alone While On Vacation Without A Professional Pet Sitter Or Boarding Facility?
This totally depends on you and your cat! Some cats have special needs and need to have the help of a human every day. But healthy cats that can be trusted not to dig around in your potted plants can be left alone for a few days.
Four days is generally our max we leave Twyla alone without having someone check in on her. I think we did 5 once when we were in a pinch and she totally survived but was extra clingy that night so I knew she missed attention. (And was a wee miffed at the state of her litter box).
Leaving a cat home alone for a week though is too long if they aren’t having someone check in on them. Their litter box will get too dirty which means you could trigger litter box issues with your cat. (Trust me, you do NOT want this. Our old guy had bladder problems towards the end and cat pee is really hard to get out of rugs.) They’ll also probably run out of food and water which is just cruel.
This post outlines how to leave your cat at home alone for long amounts of time and also goes into how to prep for leaving them alone with a pet sitter that comes 1-2 times a day (or even overnight). I also chat a bit about our experiences boarding, and why we don’t go that route anymore.
How To Leave Your Cat At Home While On Vacation: A Complete Guide
1. Know That Cats Like Alone Time
The first thing to know is that cats are independent creatures. They like having their alone time and they’re perfectly capable of taking care of themselves. In fact, some cats even prefer it when their humans are away!
Twyla for instance is super independent and will find dark corners of our apartment to snooze in for hours every day. She loves us, and loves when we are home but she doesn’t like, NEED it in the way that dogs need people. She always forgives us for leaving, and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t notice for the first 24 hours and something we joke our trips are really just a cat vacation for her. For yes, leaving a cat alone for a weekend is totally fine.
Of course, this does not apply to pandemic clingers and special needs cats! Our older cat who passed away at age 19 a few years ago loved to sit on me 24/7. We would board him or find a sitter if we were gone longer than a few days since he NEEDED the love.
2. Clean Up Your House Before Leaving
How many times have you caught your cat eating a rouge piece of plastic, or hair tie or god knows what? Leaving your cat at home while on vacation means you need to clean the place up so they can’t eat something they aren’t supposed to.
We always do a big vacuum under the couch, bed, etc, hide plastic bags, clean the trash and do a visual “sweep” for anything Twyla might get into. This includes my jewelry. I don’t know how she does it but whenever we leave on a trip, she gets bored and finds her way into my jewelry box. I have this particular pair of earrings that are a little fluffy that she loves to play with. So – hide your kids, hide your wives, hide your earrings.
3. Move Your Plants Out Of Reach
We’re super lucky because Twyla doesn’t care about plants. At all. (Or tuna, she’s strange I’m telling you.) Our older cat, Anakey, would nibble on plants so we would move a few to higher shelves when we traveled to make sure we didn’t come home to an empty pot.
This is especially important if you have plants that may be toxic to cats! Make sure those are in places they can’t reach.
4. Leave Out Tons Of Extra Food & Water
Make sure there is plenty of food and water available for your cat (duh!) We don’t have an automatic pet feeder, but I know those are great if your cat is a chonker who would eat a weekend’s worth of food in a single sitting.
Use the automatic feeder if you need it, or go the route we do where we leave out extra bowls of food so she can graze at will. We also leave out a ton of extra water. Twyla loves to put toys in her water to play with, which means she gets her water dirty faster. If your cat is also like this, make sure to leave out a 4-5 bowls instead of 1-2.
5. Prep Your Litter Box
We always leave for a trip with a freshly cleaned litter box for our cat. We don’t have one of those automatic litter boxes because while in kitten training at the SPCA (yes, that’s a thing and it’s as cute as it sounds), they heavily advised against using one of those. They just don’t cat friendly because they are loud, scary and can cause behavioral issues in your cat. (ie they’ll pee on the rugs instead of in the box).
So, we have an old-school box that’s shaped like a planter. It’s really cute. If we have a pet sitter coming over, they’ll take care of cleaning the box for us every few days. Otherwise, we leave it clean and clean it frist thing when w come back home!
6. Provide Safe Entertainment
Emphasis on safe! Twyla is obsessed with the cat wand things (we call them fishing poles) but strings can be dangerous for cats if they are left alone. They can easily wrap themselves up and choke. So, we hide anything she could hurt herself with but leave out all the balls, fake mice and catnip toys for her.
We usually withhold some toys when we are home so she doesn’t burn out on them, but on a trip she gets the good stuff. All of it!
7. Leave Out Scented Pieces of Clothing
Most importantly, leave out a few pieces of your clothing with your scent on them. This will help your cat feel comforted and safe while you’re away.
This is something so many people forget, especially if they are leaving cats at home. But hey, you just cleaned you house remember? Twyla LOVES to sleep in our laundry basket and bed, so we always leave one of my comfy big sweaters on top that smells like me and is cozy to curl up in.
8. Hire A Trusted Cat Sitter For Longer Trips
Of course, you should go the hiring a pet sitter route if your vacation is more than 4-5 days. This is someone who will come to your house once or twice a day to check on your cat and make sure they have food and water. They will also spend some time playing with your cat or just giving them some attention and get out energy. If you go this route, be sure to hire someone who is reliable and whom you trust.
I almost booked from Meowtel (like Rover but for cats!) but ended up getting in touch with a pair of local women who are major cat people and have tons of experience with cats, and do day checks and overnight stays, too. We go their info from our neighbor, so ask around and get a word of mouth rec! Or, use Meowtel for verified professional cat sitters.
We used to board our cat (more on that below) but now we love the cat sitter route because they do much more than just feed the little guys.
Cat sitters can:
- keep an eye on your apartment as a whole for safety
- take in your mail/packages
- water your plants
- care for your cat
- do overnights if needed
They’re not the cheapest, so we don’t use them for smaller trips but we love having help around the apartment while we’re away.
In the past, we’ve also done cat-sitting trading with neighbors for free. They would check in on our cat while we were in Hawaii for a week, and then when they would be in Seattle we would watch their cats. This system worked out really well (but then they both had to move away in the pandemic BOO).
You always can ask friends or family members to help out if hiring a pet sitter is out of your budget. Just make sure they are reliable and ok with cats (some people aren’t!)
When It’s Time To Board A Cat
Another option is to board your cat at a kennel or veterinary clinic. Cat boarding a good option if you don’t want to leave your cat home alone for extended periods of time because they can’t be trusted or need a lot of help (or maybe they’re just attention whores). Boarding facilities will typically provide food, water, and basic care for your cat, along with playtime. Some will even keep your cat in their office if the little guy is super needy.
The downside is cat boarding is pricey AF and it’s a pain to do pick up/drop off. We used to use this amazing spot down in Pacifica but they closed during the panny. They were $40 a night but they also weren’t open on Sundays and closed early on Saturdays.
We usually always had to pay for an extra night or two depending on our travel schedule. This is pretty normal for pet boarding so keep that in mind if you are going this route. Some boarding pet sitters also keep dogs on site, so that can be stressful for your cat.
Others are built so your cat is facing other cats and that can be super stressful events for them as well (cats don’t like each other!) Make sure to look into how the boarding facility is set up prior to booking.
Why We Don’t Use Boarders For Our Cat Anymore
As I mentioned, we boarded our older cat Anakey when we traveled on long trips. I had him since I was 7, we lived in a work-from-home house and has been around people every day of his like. In short: he was an attention whore ( I loved it). And as he got older, I was nervous about him being on his own as he wasn’t great at jumping anymore.
So, we boarded him at this lovely place that gave him all the rubbies and made sure he didn’t break a leg jumping off something. I know Anakey preferred being at home, but he loved people and didn’t mind hanging out at the overnight boarding Truly.
But Twyla is young, healthy and hates strangers. Most of my friends have only seen glimpses of her when they come over because she goes right under the bed. Boarding her would make her extremely stressed out, way more than being left alone for a month ever would. So, we have an in-home pet sitter.
Where Can I Leave My Cat While On Vacation?
Trying to figure out where to leave your cat when on vacation? Google boarding facilities nearby and make sure to look at their Yelp reviews to check if they are safe places or not.
You can also use one of these trusted services to find people!
All the time I hear folks say ” I want to travel but I have a cat!” (or use traveling a lot as a reason not to get a pet). Leaving cats alone during vacations that are under 4 days – which is the majority of my trips – is totally fine. And free.
Got any more tips to add on how to keep your cat happy while you’re away? Leave a comment below so everyone can see!